Flexible or Counterfeit?

We operate in a world that preaches tolerance, flexibility and understanding.  Not bad ideals to practice, in most cases.  I, however, have grown tired of being schooled on the “politically correct” response to every situation regardless of my own beliefs and emotions.  I understand that not everyone embraces my upbringing, my history or my moral compass and I have no intention of forcing my views onto anyone.  But, at what point do my actions stop being signs of flexible tolerance and become indications of an untrue and even counterfeit life?   Is there a line where I am expected to stand up and voice my standards and beliefs even if those very beliefs offend the social norm of today?

I grew up in North Texas in what is often called Tornado Alley.  Like many homes in that part of the world, we had a storm cellar in our back yard.  It had been built by my grandparents, and the door was covered in sheet metal and made a wonder slide for play time.  One day, I discovered that I could walk up the door if I rubbed gasoline (from the 5 gallon container for the lawn mower) on the bottoms of my rubber flip-flops.  I thought it was really neat.  That is until my mother discovered what we were doing.  I was told it was dangerous to play with gasoline.  I wasn’t sure I understood the danger, but I knew not to try it again.  Fast forward 30 years, when I met a friend who had been playing with gasoline and had been badly burned as a result.  Now, I understood the dangers of the highly combustible fuel as well as how fast fires can and will follow not only the liquid but the fumes.  My mother was not flexible in allowing me to have fun and play.  She knew I was playing with fire and did her best to protect me. 

You may be thinking, “Of course she would stop you.  So what?” This example is pretty cut and dried.  The danger was obvious.  The actions were expected.  So I ask:  How many times to we allow others (friends, children, family) to play with “fire” in their lives rather than offend/anger them?  There are so very many moral chasms that we allow others to delve into without saying anything.  After all, we live in a world where sex is casual, attaining personal desire is the #1 goal and faith is only discussed as the punchline of a joke.  We speak of religion without conviction and yet bristle when called religious.  Christianity has become a social tag and the Church a place to go on Sunday mornings IF I decide to get out of bed AND it will benefit me in some way. 

My husband uses the term “American Christianity” to describe today’s social/religious Christian tag.  American Christianity tends to focus on:

  • The importance of the individual not the corporate vision or destiny of “the Church”. 
  • Individual prosperity instead of stewardship; using faith to attain stability and comfort versus encouraging taking risks to advance the Kingdom.
  • Self-fulfillment and happiness rather than glorifying God and serving humanity.
  • Promoting a consumerist mentality with regard to the home church and not the equipping for ministry; A culture of entertainment that replaces the pursuit of God.
  • The church as a building instead of a body that exemplifies a lifestyle of worship, community and Christ following.
  • Efficiency of worship but not the effectiveness.

While each individual believer is responsible for applying the Word of God to his/her own life, scripture was given to the Church.  When you read the Old Testament, references are made about the Nation of Israel.  In the New Testament, the community of faith (the Church) was the focus of scripture.  As believers, we are to be a PART of the Body or The Church.  We are not ‘stand-alone’ in our beliefs. 

Only in the United States do we believe we are “owed” prosperity.  Rather than being grateful for all that we have in our country, we pray for greater things:  bigger houses, nicer cars, better paychecks.  It would never occur to most American Christians to sacrifice in order to provide for the community around us.  At most, we give a tithe and expect a big return as a result.

If I hear one more person say “I deserve to be happy”, I will scream!  No one ‘deserves’ to be happy.  Did you read that correctly?  NO ONE DESERVES TO BE HAPPY.  An individual can CHOOSE to be happy in any situation.  When MY happiness becomes my prime focus, I cannot focus on God.  And just to close any gap that may exist:  God will NEVER use sin to bring you happiness.  An adulterous affair may add a level of excitement and fun to your life, but is it worth the sacrifice of your reputation and trustworthiness? 

I struggle with entertainment value attached to our American church services.  I struggle as a worship leader and as a participant.  I know the danger of getting caught up in “performing” on any given Sunday. The need to be part of the worship with the body fades if I’m not on stage.  The accolades from others become my “worship” and I no longer look for ways to grow in my own spiritual life.

I believe we need to attract people to our church services.  But, more important, I believe we need to be examples of a lifestyle of Christ following.  When we show that worship is more than filling space in a church building once a week, we influence the community is a greater way.  We make effective our worship and our lifestyle.  People are attracted to the genuine.  Worship as entertainment will lose its appeal if there is no depth to it.  That’s why we are seeing an upswing in small group/family life worship.  My pastor has said “The Row doesn’t know what you need, but the Circle does.”  The Row represents where you sit in a church service.  The people on either side of you have no idea what’s really going on with you.  The Circle, however, represents the family life group.  That’s the small group that hears you share on a weekly basis.  That may not be efficient, but it’s definitely effective in growing your spiritual side.   

I want to be flexible with people.  I want to be that person that loves regardless and sometimes in spite of the situation.  I need to be a part of weekly worship and daily growth in order to be my best self.  I cannot pretend to be something other than who I am.  I will not be a counterfeit in this world that promotes individuality but demands conformity. 

“Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” 

James 1:26-27 MSG

Trust, Hope & Love

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

We have a blended family that includes 5 adult children that range in age from 20-30 years old.  We are firmly entrenched in the marriage stage of life.  So far, we’ve had 3 weddings:  Zac in 2016, Kyle in 2018 and Reagan was married this weekend.  Three down and two to go. 

As a parent, there are lots of thoughts and emotions that arise when one of your children moves toward marriage.  You want the best for your child.  You pray they are making sound choices.  There’s the joy (and lets be honest the stress) of adding another person to your family as well as the new extended family.  Weddings are fun, beautiful, joyful, frustrating, tiring and hard work.  And, after the party is over, the REAL work begins in earnest.

Marriage is a constant exercise in give and take.  According to statistics, almost 50 percent of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce or separation.  Researchers estimate that 41 percent of all first marriages end in divorce.  Of the remaining 50 to 59 percent of marriages, I wonder how many would rate their marriages as “successful”.  I love being married.  I was married for 18 years, widowed for 10 years and celebrate my fourth anniversary in a few months with my new husband.  I had a successful first marriage and I consider my current marriage a success. 

So, what makes marriage so difficult?  I think the answer is pretty simple:  selfishness.  When I concentrate on “ME” and “MY WANTS”, I cannot put my marriage first.  My selfishness takes precedence.  I recently saw a sign that said:                   “Want a bad marriage?  Put yourself first.                                      “Want a good marriage?  Put your spouse first.                                   “Want a great marriage?  Put God first.” 

There is so much truth in these words.  If I concentrate on what God wants, I will take care of my spouse.  It doesn’t matter if my spouse reciprocates.  I am still responsible for seeking a Godly marriage.  And if my spouse also seeks a Godly marriage, so much the better!!

We’ve all heard and/or read 1 Corinthians 13, also known as “The Love Chapter”.  I find that putting scripture into my own words, makes it a little more real to me.  This is my personal interpretation of a few of the love verses. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 13 (Melissa’s words)

Love is valuable.  It is worth everything to me. 

Love keeps going even through the hard times. 
Love gives to others instead of taking for itself.
Love
is happy in its’ own yard.  There are no greener pastures.
Love doesn’t exist only when it gets attention.
Love doesn’t allow my selfish wants to conflict with those I love.
Love doesn’t manipulate to get its’ way.
Love plays 2nd fiddle at times. 
Love is calm in the face of conflict or disappointment.
Love has learned the art of forgive and forget.
Love doesn’t take pleasure in making others beg for attention
Love speaks the truth (even when it hurts.)
Love withstands any attack.
Love is from God and trusts that He is in control.
Love often wears “rose colored” glasses and sees the good in a difficult situation.
Love never asks “what if” and longs for something (or someone) else        Love stands firm and stays true to its’ vows and commitments.

There are three things that will make me successful in life:  Trust, Hope and Love.  And Love is the one that is my focus. 

We all crave love.  We want to be adored and cherished.  Too often, however, we confuse lust with love and settle for less than the best God has for us.  We have found that we can avoid solving issues within relationships by moving on to new relationships.  There is excitement in the chase.  We use the excuses “I’m just not happy and I deserve happiness”, “We’ve just grown apart and have nothing in common”, or (the biggest lie from Satan) “God wouldn’t have brought him/her into my life if He didn’t want me to be with him/her.”  Just as Eve allowed the Serpent to persuade her to eat the forbidden fruit, we listen to the world and throw love and commitment to the wolves in order to have a moment of excitement and fun. 

As my children begin and continue to grow their marriages and their own families, I pray that the words of 1 Corinthians 13 will ring true and keep them on the true path. 

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 12:4-7,13 NIV

Shredded Tires, a Pillar of Salt and Life

We’ve all seen the sign that warns of tire damage if you backup. You can move forward and the spikes lay flat. But, backup or go the wrong direct, and your tires are shredded. There’s no turning back when you see this sign. You are forced to “go with the flow” and drive forward.

How many times have I wanted a “do over” during my lifetime? This is especially true after I’ve made a decision and things haven’t gone exactly as planned. My mind goes into overdrive with “what if” and “if only” thoughts. I’m plagued with plans on how to “go back” and “fix it;.” But, truthfully, that’s not an option. Any time spent trying to go back will be wasted and will come at a cost to myself and may to those around me.

“ But Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt.”

Genesis 19:26 MSG

Lot and his family were living Sodom and Gomorrah.  Angels visited and instructed Lot to take his family and “run for your life! Don’t look back! Don’t stop anywhere on the plain—run for the hills or you’ll be swept away.”  God was saving them from the destruction that was coming.  Lot had seen the debauchery.  He and his family trusted the Angels and started on their way.  But, what if the city wasn’t so bad after all?   If only there was one more chance.  Lot’s wife couldn’t move forward.  She was too caught up in what she was leaving behind.  She turned back and the entire family was affected by her decision.  

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” 

Philippians 3:12-14 MSG

As a young mother, I remember being overwhelmed.  I worked a full time demanding job.  We had two young children.  My husband and I always seemed to have more month than money.  It was easy to wonder:  “What if I was single and going out with my co-workers?  If only I didn’t have all these responsibilities.  Don’t I deserve to be happy and have fun?”  It was a tough time in our marriage.  Ultimately, I realized that I couldn’t go back and could only move forward with the decisions I had made about my life.  And, I’m so glad that I did.

In our world, choosing ME over anything is what we are told to do.  I need to find MY happiness.  I am the most important person in my life.  God wants ME to be happy or He wouldn’t have brought (fill in the blank) into MY life.  It’s too easy to find an excuse to abandon what I have for something that “might be”.  I become my own worst enemy.  I plot and scheme to make God fit into the itinerary I have made for my life.  And when that doesn’t work, my first thought is to try again.  I’m certain I know best.  Sound familiar?

I’ve watched so many families/marriages implode because reality has overtaken the fairy tale.  Things aren’t as perfect as we want.  Prince Charming’s armor is a little dented & tarnished and those glass slippers really pinch your toes.   You begin to look back, to wonder:  “Maybe I married too quickly.  What if I had waited for the Jack of Hearts to take and interest.  He’s really cute.”  And before you even recognize what has happened, you’re a pillar of salt.  Stuck in the wilderness you thought you wanted.  You’ve destroyed your future.  You’ve destroyed your family.  In an effort to recapture what might have been, you have chosen to backup and have suffered severe “damage your tires.”

What can we learn from this?  Is there any hope?  I believe there is.  While I don’t think any of us “deserve” to be happy, I know that I can “choose” to be happy and content in any circumstance.  You see, when I stopped looking at all of the fun that my single friends were having all those years ago, I realized something.  They were looking for a life JUST LIKE MINE!  Every one of them wanted a home and a family. I must had to stop day-dreaming about what might have been and embrace what really WAS.  My reality was a husband that loved me as much as he irritated me.  My reality was a son and a daughter that just wanted to spend time with me: quantity over quality.  My reality was God always provided for all of our needs.  I made the decision to invest in my less than perfect marriage.  I began to focus on what I could DO to bring joy to my husband and my children instead of what I thought I was missing.  And you know what?   The best years of my marriage started right then!

“But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.”  E

Ephesians 4:20-24  MSG

You can never go back.  Whether good or bad, that is the past.  You can only move forward.

“Remember what happened to Lot’s wife! If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get life on God’s terms.” 

Luke 17:32-33 MSG

Where the Heart Lives

Some farewells are harder than others. This weekend I bid farewell to Foard County.  It’s not the first time, but this time was different. For the first time in my almost sixty years, I accepted that Foard County isn’t “home”.   It’s where I grew up. There are many treasured memories.  

I moved to Nacogdoches for college in 1978. But, Crowell was still home. In 1982, I went to work in Houston and I’ve lived in that area ever since.  I married, had 2 kids, became a widow and married again. And I looked forward to going home to Crowell as often as possible. 

This weekend, I realized:  this is no longer home.  I am just a visitor passing through. 

Some say that home is where the heart is. Well, pieces of my heart are buried in the Crowell Cemetery.  I will always be a Foard county girl. Crowell will always be my hometown.  But, for now, my home is with my husband, my kids (birthed and bonus) and my grandson in the West Houston area. Brookshire calls to my heart. 

Farewell Foard County. Thanks for the memories. 

The Importance of Flowers

My husband knows I love fresh flowers.  Nearly every week, he fills my crystal vase with flowers. Often he selects roses, but we’ve had many different types.  I truly enjoy the various blooms.  Last week, I heard our girls discussing the dozen red roses in the vase that sat on top of the kitchen counter.  One said “Don’t waste money on flowers, save it for jewelry.”  They all seemed to agree on the concept.    It’s a sentiment I’ve heard through the years. 

If you know Tim, you know he is “thrifty”.  He doesn’t buy extravagant bouquets.  My weekly flowers come from the selection at the grocery store.  They are not expensive, but that doesn’t change their beauty or their meaning to me. 

I appreciate good jewelry.  My wedding ring is a symbol of the endless, eternal love we share.  Tim designed it to represent two broken people coming together to become one.  It is precious to me.  But, as much as I love the meaning behind this ring, there is so much more to building a lasting, successful marriage.  Marriage is all about daily sacrifice.  Every day, I commit myself to making my marriage better.  Sometimes that means I don’t get what I want.  Sometimes that means I step back and put my husband’s needs ahead of my own.  Sometimes, we both make sacrifices in the best interest of our family.  There are days that aren’t spectacular and in fact there are more ordinary days than extraordinary in this day to day life.

A vase filled with flowers remind me how fragile relationships can be.   Flowers are beautiful. If I keep them watered and protected, I will get days and maybe weeks of beauty.  Still, they fade.  New flowers must be added to the vase to continue to enjoy them.  If they are neglected, the water turns green and fungus begins to grow.  Before too long, the vase is stained and marred forever from neglect and disuse.  Marriages are just as fragile.  I have to pay attention and care about the details.  I cannot assume that the first days of romance will effortlessly continue.  I need to renew my commitment to my marriage, to my romance every day.  Just as fresh flowers can refill the vase, fresh attention replenishes a marriage.  Are there days when I don’t really want to invest in my relationship? Of course there are.  Sometimes, I have the RIGHT to be upset, depressed or angry.  But, I cannot allow those moments to turn into days or weeks of selfish indignation.  At some point, I have to pull up my big-girl panties and decide what is most important.   The world will tell me that I deserve to be happy.  The flowers remind me that happiness can be fleeting. But, the joy I find in my marriage, much like the crystal vase that holds and provides for the flowers, will stand strong and ready. 

I hope my husband never tires of giving me flowers.  For every flower reminds me of our love: past, present and future.

Romance will never die as long as we keep trying!

CONFESSIONS OF AN OLDEST CHILD

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” 

Jeremiah 29:11 MSG

I am the oldest of three children.  I am also the first grandchild on both sides of my family.  I am the definition of “the oldest child”. 

There are lots of perks that come with being the oldest.  Hand-me downs don’t exist when you are the first-born.  As the oldest, you get to do things first.  You get the undivided attention of your parents and grandparents when you are the only one.  But, there are some downers to being the oldest.  You are the first one that has to learn to share – everything.  You are the “learner” child:   your siblings get to do things you were never allowed to do. And even though it’s nice to be the first, it also means you will be the first to fail.

The first born has only adults with which to compare himself/herself.  Think about what an oldest/only child sees:  Everyone around can walk without holding on or falling down.  The only crawling seems to be to encourage the baby to get up.  You are being watched at every moment, so you try to please.   Communication is crucial and the praise received is worth the effort.  A first born learns early that you don’t want to disappoint the big people. 

The first born gets more attention.  This is partly because the baby stuff is so new, but also because the time is spent with just this one child.   Just look at photo albums or baby books.  The first child will have tons of pictures and a complete baby book.  Child #2 will have a few pictures and a good start on the baby book.  Any other siblings will just have to make do with a few snapshots and will be grateful if a baby book was even purchased.  The first born will benefit from more time being read to and being taught at home.  Even when siblings are added, the oldest child will continue to benefit from the time spent learning as a group. 

As soon as another sibling is added, the oldest child becomes a leader.  We know how it should be done and will not hesitate to point it out to our younger siblings.  We will be put in charge of our siblings and reminded that we are “older” and therefore “more responsible”.  Some will call this being a natural leader.  Others call it being bossy. 

First born children tend to be perfectionists, leaders, good students, and teachers.  We are often people pleasers that fear failing.  I never tried anything that I wasn’t pretty sure I would excel at.  If there was a chance that I might look silly, I did not attempt it.  I was never good at roller skating, mainly because I did not want to fall.  It hurt and people would laugh.  My younger brother was a good skater.  Granted, he was black and blue from throwing himself into the “experience.”  But, he had fun and enjoyed it.  I would rather spend my time with a good book or a logic puzzle. 

I was always at the top of my class in school.  Learning came easy to me.  I wouldn’t classify myself as an overachiever, I just did what came easily. My classmates that thought I had it made.  While others would be praised for getting a “B” on report cards, I had to get all “A’s and A+”.  Even an “A-“wasn’t good enough.  It wasn’t until I was taking college classes that I was really challenged.  I had to learn to study.  It was hard to accept that I might not be “the best” after all.  But, it was also in college classes that I found I could enjoy learning without being the best.  As a junior accounting major, I had a class under Dean of the School of Business, Dr. Lauderdale.  He promised to weed out the bookkeepers from the accountants in his class.  He was strict and had high expectations.  Our class size dropped by 50% as the semester commenced.  Before our last final, Dr. Lauderdale looked at me and said “You have a B in this class.  If you ace the final or not, you have a solid B.  Don’t come to the final.”  I have never been so excited to be told I was a B student!

I still struggle with perfectionistic tendencies.  This causes lots of anxiety in my life.   I play scenes over and over in my head of how I disappoint my friends and family.  There are days when I feel like I’m balancing on a pin cushion.  When I am out of control or over-whelmed, I protect myself with a veil of detachment.  I separate myself from those areas.  If they don’t exist, they cannot hurt me, right?  My husband helps me to see past the veil and to accept that I can only be the best that I can be.  If someone is disappointed at my best efforts, then that’s not my problem.  Hurt and disappointments are part of life.  I cannot avoid them.

I still don’t like to do anything without a road map.  I want to know EXACTLY what is coming before I step out.  But, I’ve learned that is not always possible.  But these things I know:

  • I CAN make phone calls when I must. (Many of you know how much a hate to do that!)
  • I CAN meet new people and get to know them without hyperventilating.  (I still do better in small groups.)
  • I CAN make decisions and live my life the way God leads me. (Even when others don’t agree/understand.)
  • I CAN trust that others will love me.  (Love isn’t earned, it’s given.)

I am the oldest of three children.  I am the first grandchild on both sides of my family.  And, I am a beloved child of God.

 “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” 

Psalm 139:13-14 NLT

 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” 

Matthew 6:30-33 msg

Is Love Worth the Pain?


We grieve because we love.

I learned a lot from grief.  I learned that my identity was as a wife, a mother and a daughter.  When I lost my husband, and later my dad, a lot of what made me feel whole seemed to disappear.  For years, I submerged myself in my role as “mom”.   I needed my kids as much as they needed me.  As they grew up and moved on with their lives, I again lost my touch point, my anchor.  Where did I belong?  How would I make a difference?  It was a struggle.  I forgot what it meant to be just “me”. 

Have you ever felt the effects of too much caffeine?  That jumpy, panicky feeling became normal for me.  Most days, I felt like I need to crawl out of my own skin.   On the days when my kids weren’t around or I didn’t have to work, I stayed in bed.  It was easier to sleep than to face my reality.   I didn’t keep up with my house or my yard.  I avoided being at home as much as I could.  I didn’t know how to ask for help.  I didn’t know if there was any help.  I was overwhelmed.  I was supposed to be strong and I was embarrassed to admit that I was failing in every area.  I just tried to keep my head above water. 

I lived this way for almost 10 years.  I knew I had to get used to my new “normal” and believed that I had dealt with my grief.  I helped with grief recovery groups.  I put on a good face.  I didn’t realize that I was living with depression.  All the things that had given my life meaning seemed to be disappearing.  My son and daughter didn’t need a hands-on mom.  I had accepted that I would live out the rest of my life alone.   It had been long enough.  I had to get over it all.  I had to close the door on the part of my life that wanted to be loved and accepted.

But, I had a friend that listened to me.  A friend heard what I said and what I didn’t really want heard.  He asked questions I didn’t want to answer.  He probed into areas that were off-limits.  He recommended counseling.  He encouraged me to trust again.  He challenged me to open the doors that I had closed and sort through those emotions and dreams.  He waited patiently to be allowed into all areas of my life. 

There are many that question the choices I’ve made over the last four years.   And, there are those that frankly, just disapprove of the life I now have.  I’ve heard the whispers and I’ve seen the looks.   I don’t have any doubts that I am exactly where I need to be.  I married my dearest friend.  I have never felt safer or more secure.  I am loved deeply and completely.  Our life is not without its challenges and frustrations, but we face them together. 

I have learned that grief is love turned upside down.  I will never give up the opportunity to experience a deep and passionate love in order to avoid the pain of grief.  Love is worth EVERYTHING!